I just got back from an inspiring conference hosted by Omidyar Network (ON) to help its nonprofit partners scale their impact and better serve the public. This invitations-only event took place April 27-29 at the Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel in Menlo Park, California. Speakers included ON co-founders Pierre and Pam Omidyar, as well as experts in the field of management, social marketing and human relations. Participants included CEOs of over 30 ON grantees in fields as diverse as social media, micro-finance and government transparency --- including organizations such as BridgeSpan, DonorsChoose, Global Voices, GuideStar, HopeLab, Kaboom, Sunlight , Ushahidi and Wikimedia, to name just a few. I represented NewsTrust (as a recent ON grantee), and was very grateful to be
included in this event.
The purpose of this 'executive boot camp' was to help us learn and network with peers, content experts, and ON leadership, to "ignite transformative change around the world." Using a highly interactive format, ON provided us with coaching and practical tools on topics like governance, strategy, influencing behavior, generating revenue, and maximizing talent. As the new kid on the block, I learned a great deal by interacting with all these innovators and developing our own plan for growing NewsTrust.
In this short post, I wanted to share a few links and quick observations about this exceptional program. To get a feel for who was there, check out some of my photos on Flickr (with some nice group photos at the end -- sorry I couldn't include people who left early). And you can find some great comments on the special twitter feed set up for this event (#onef). I wrote this blog post to help provide a bit more context for outsiders who stumbled upon this twitter feed, and hope that other participants will post more info on their sites as well.
Omidyar Network is pioneering a very unique approach to helping make the world a better place, by applying some of the best practices of the for-profit world to philanthropic purposes. They support both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, bridging the gap between these different sectors -- and using remarkable business discipline to help bring about social change. As Pierre Omidyar pointed out in his talk, nonprofits can achieve greater impact when they charge for their services, because "people who pay you give you valuable feedback that helps improve your product."
Other speakers provided more insights on this topic, such as Bridgespan's William Foster, who reminded us that only 7% of nonprofit funding comes from foundations & big donors -- and that business models based solely on foundation support generally don't scale up. We also learned a lot from professor Alan Andreasen about traditional social marketing tools that nonprofits can use to influence the behaviors of both 'downstream' disadvantaged consumers, as well as 'upstream' market forces that can help solve social problems.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this event was the extensive coaching provided by ON and its consultants, either one-on-one or in small group exercises, which helped us learn from each other in an interactive format. One of ON's special qualities is that it invests in people, not just programs, as this project made very clear.
Overall, this was a great opportunity to interact with peers and experts in a convivial and well-structured setting, which encouraged us to think intelligently about growing the impact of our public services. I look forward to applying some of these tools and principles in our own work at NewsTrust, and am very grateful to Omidyar Network for being such a thoughtful and effective partner in helping us achieve social change.
Thanks to everyone in ON community for this invaluable experience!